Evolution, adaptability, and the courage to change are key elements to progress, growth, and success. For this year's bumper crop of award-winning innovations, we searched out the tools and accessories we think best express this energy and bring the best improvements to your jobsites. The winners of the 2004 Editors' Choice Awards include a paradigm-shifting technology that makes fastening into concrete easier, a state-of-the-art laser level design, a machine that reinvents production trim work, and a little foam bit holder for cordless drills that somebody should have thought of years ago. From a buck-and-a-half gadget to a $2,500 dollar investment, meet 2004's best-in-class.

There is no way any of us could work as fast, well, or profitably as we do now without mobile communications. But as revolutionary as having a cell phone hanging from your belt was, the digital walkie-talkie services offered by Nextel, and now Verizon Wireless, make what was already fast practically instant–and effortless. While most wouldn't consider a mobile phone to be a "power tool," we've come to rely on digital walkie-talkie phones as much as any cordless drill. Now, those same lightning-fast features enable you to reach out and touch someone not just locally, but nationwide. For their contributions to helping everyone involved in construction increase their productivity and improve the safety of their crews, we award this year's grand prize to Nextel and Verizon Wireless.


Nextel

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The chirp of the Nextel phone has become commonplace on jobsites as guys call for lumber from the other end of the subdivision or call the lead carpenter in his pickup. In 2003, Nextel took its service a giant step forward with Nationwide Direct Connect, which provides the same instant communication it did locally, but with a national reach. Now, not only can users talk instantly from across the jobsite, but also to headquarters three states away or the window supplier on the opposite coast. Flexible pricing plans are available, which make this great service affordable, and long distance is free.
Nextel. 800-639-8359. www.nextel.com.


Verizon

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Also in 2003, Verizon Wireless launched its own walkie-talkie calling, Push to Talk, that makes reaching the members of your crew seamless and quick. Along with nationwide service, plans include features like Web-manageable group-calling lists and presence icons that indicate when a contact is busy. Various pricing plans are available with free long distance and unlimited one-to-one Push to Talk time.
Verizon Wireless. 800-922-0204. www.vzw.com.


Hilti

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The GX 100 gas-powered pinner reinvents fastening into concrete and steel by making a slow process significantly faster and less work. Innovative technological advancements and a smart design are behind the GX 100's impressive 1,000-fasteners-per-hour speed and its ease of use. First, the tool's unique method for mixing the propellant with air eliminates the need for a cooling fan and eliminates the odors associated with other gas-fueled tools. Second, a wristwatch-type battery sparks the combustion required to ignite the gas that fires the fastener. Both design features help the tool work hard in concrete and steel while at the same time making it lighter and easier to work with than larger tools. Its curved clip holds 40 fasteners, and one gas cartridge shoots about 750 pins from 1/2 to 1-5/8 inches long. The tool weighs 9.1 pounds. The ignition battery doesn't need to be changed or charged in the field, and the unit has tool-free jam clearing.
Cost: $895. Hilti. 800-879-8000. www.us.hilti.com.


Porter-Cable

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If you haven't already lost the wrench to your circ saw, you can throw it out now, because Porter-Cable has designed the first-ever tool-free blade change for circ saws. Their Mag-Saws now feature a one-of-a-kind Quik-Change blade-release system that allows you to change the blade without a wrench and, according to the company, get the blade as tight as or tighter than using a wrench. To change blades, you slide a lever out sideways from the face of the blade bolt and then use it to loosen or tighten the bolt–instead of using a separate wrench. When you're done, you slide the lever back into place where it rides unobtrusively as part of the blade nut. Other features include a "dust elbow" that can direct sawdust away from the work area or accept a vacuum attachment for interior work, a lightweight magnesium housing, a 15-amp motor, 0- to 50-degree miter capacity with positive stops at 45 degrees, increased line of sight, and a soft-grip handle. Right- and left-blade versions are available.
Cost: $129 to $149. 800-487-8665. www.porter-cable.com.


Lutz File & Tool Co.

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Cordless drills and impact drivers sometimes offer too few (or no) places to store extra driver bits. So, switching between square-drive deck screws or replacing a lost Phillips-head driver bit usually means a trip back to the drill box to fish around for the right bit. The LutzBitz Self-Adhesive Bit Holder solves this problem by enabling you to store four extra bits on board your tool–so they're right there when you need them. The bit holder is a small piece of flexible foam with adhesive on one side and bit-holding slots on the other. It adheres anywhere you choose on any cordless drill/driver; the foam holds bits securely but is supple enough to release them easily when you need one, even in freezing temperatures. The adhesive works, too, so the bit holder stays stuck to the tool. And, at a little more than a buck, putting one on every drill won't break the bank.
Cost: $1.39. Lutz File & Tool Co. 800-966-3458. www.gorillaglue.com.


Copemaster

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The Copemaster makes unlimited, repeatable, high-quality coping cuts on any molding with a speed and accuracy that leaves your coping saw and files in the dust. It works like a key duplicating machine: Make one perfect cope by hand on a scrap piece, then insert that piece into the machine as a template. Next, insert full-length, pre-mitered pieces. A stylus traces the pattern piece while a proprietary side-cutting blade rides on a traveling armature and cuts the exact shape of the pattern. The result is that a day's worth of hand-coping can be completed in one or two hours. Operating the Copemaster is pretty foolproof, too, according to Shaw, and it can be manned by a helper, freeing up experienced carpenters for more complex work. The Copemaster weighs 65 pounds and is smaller than a 10-inch tile saw. It copes a typical 4-1/2-inch crown in 20 seconds with total precision. Try doing that by hand.
Cost: $2,295. Copemaster. 800-630-1104. www.copemaster.com.


Roofmates

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The Shingle Saw Pro II is truly a great advancement in cutting roof shingles. Invented by pro roofer Rob Garrett, the Shingle Saw works off of air power, cuts through layers of architectural shingles infinitely faster and easier than hook blades, and, at 12 inches long, is far more mobile than a shear. Garrett's motivation for inventing this tool came from his frustration with cutting shingles off at the rake. Layers of shingles, especially architectural shingles, were just too tough to cut quickly–or straight–with a utility knife (not to mention the physical exhaustion). A circ saw (usually cordless) worked, but soon got clogged with shingle granules; the shingles also devoured blades. The nimble Shingle Saw, however, can handle this tough stuff because it's air-driven and doesn't clog. And the specially designed carbide blade lasts for several houses before getting dull, according to Garrett. The Shingle Saw is small and doesn't require an extra battery or cord up on the roof, running instead off the air hoses that are topside anyway. With the Shingle Saw Pro II, cutting starter strips, caps, rakes, valleys, and sets is easier and faster than ever before. It saves energy, money, and time by speeding up labor-intensive work and getting you to the end of the job much faster than before. Cost: $469. Roofmates. 410-551-7539. www.roofmates.com.


Freud

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Anybody who has ever struggled with getting a dado blade set to the right width will appreciate Freud's breakthrough SD608 Dial-A-Width Stacked Dado Set that eliminates the need for spacer shims. The new system uses a dial hub that allows you to adjust the width of cut with the blade set still in place on the saw arbor. The set comes with five carbide-tipped chippers and the dial hub. Pick the chipper combination that gets you closest to your desired width and then install them with the hub onto your table saw. If you need to adjust the width, loosen the arbor nut and dial-in your target width. Each click on the dial hub adjusts the blade width .004 inches–with an available range of adjustment between 1/4 and 2-9/32 inch. The chippers produce a flat-bottom dado in everything from laminates and melamine to solid wood to veneered plywood. Freud has equipped the chippers with oversized teeth that will provide longer life and more resharpenings, according to the company.
Cost: $250. Freud. 800-472-7307. www.freudtools.com.


Python Tools

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The Python Perfect cutter does what every innovative tool should: It saves time, eliminates wasted steps, and–maybe best of all–cleans up after itself. The tool cuts holes for electrical, data boxes, and lighting about 20 percent faster than traditional methods, according to the company. The tool's built-in level and measuring rods help you position the template on the wall for an accurate cutout–without having to re-measure as you move around the room. The onboard vacuum secures the template to the wall with suction, leaving hands free to cut out the hole with the included high-speed router. While cutting, the vacuum also removes dust from the hole area, virtually eliminating debris and cleanup time. The Perfect Cutter cuts wallboard, solid surfacing, tile, and more, and it comes with up to seven interchangeable templates for cutting most residential and commercial metallic and non-metallic boxes, including single-gang, single-gang RACO metal boxes, 4.0 round boxes, octagonal metal fixture boxes, and recessed lighting; you can cut out multiple gang boxes by using the 2-gang template several times.
Cost: Starts at $295 (without vacuum). 800-860-8709. www.perfectcutter.com.


American Clamping Corp.

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It's difficult to find something Erdi's 48A MultiPurpose Snips won't cut. They easily cut through Romex, coax, and rope. They clip metal, wood, and carpet. They cut straight lines or even rough circles in aluminum coil stock. They sail through copper and lead flashing. They also cut wood shims–both in half and along the grain. They pop plastic and metal lumber bands, clip packing staples on cardboard boxes, and stay sharp enough to cut stray ferrules off a paint brush or even slice paper. And because they come in such a light and tiny package, they ride in a tool pouch, easily earning a spot in that crowded and valuable space. A spring opens the jaws automatically for easier maneuvering through materials.
Cost: $11. American Clamping Corp. 800-828-1004. www.americanclamping.com.


DeWalt

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he DC500 2-gallon cordless vacuum makes small jobsite cleanup easier than ever and is a dream come true for remodelers, electricians, punch-out carpenters, and anybody working in the finished product. Running off one 12- to 18-volt battery, the DC500 is light and easy to carry, and fits in small spaces. The hoses and attachments are smartly and securely arranged on board, so walking through a job with the vacuum is a snap. If you run out of battery power or need some extra juice for a larger job, simply plug it in. The Gore wet/dry filter is next-generation stuff, too, and traps 99.7 percent of dust particles. And, for debris that can really gum up a vac, like drywall or sanding dust, the space-age filter material sheds particulate matter better than current filters, says DeWalt, which allows it to go longer before cleaning.
Cost: $99. DeWalt Industrial Tool. 800-433-9258. www.dewalt.com.


Stabila

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Stabila's engineers pay attention to how we work, and it's evident from the designs of the LAPR 100 and LAX 100 laser levels that they got out of the office and onto the jobsite. The key feature on these levels is the onboard 4-1/2-inch height adjustment, which works by sliding the level body on the rails of its "roll cage," which also doubles as a carrying handle. The LAPR 100 is a general- purpose self-leveling rotating laser. It shoots a line or dot, or works in full rotation and is suitable for cabinet layout or shooting grade on a stem wall. Its pendulum leveling system dampens vibration-related shutdowns, and the tool is accurate to (+/-) 3/8 inch at 100 feet, according to the company. The unit also inverts to cast plumb lines. The LAX 100 self-leveling pendulum unit shoots a crosshair and Stabila says it's ideal for trimmers, remodelers, tilers, and cabinet and closet installers because the integrated plumb and level line facilitates quick, accurate layout. The LAX 100 also shoots a dot perpendicular to its plumb line, good for interior framing layout. Its turret design enables you to "walk" a line around a room on a level plane, like for chair rail or a run of cabinets. The LAX 100's line straightness is (+/-) 1/4 inch at 100 feet; it's level to (+/-) 3/8 inch at 100 feet.
Cost: LAPR 100: $799; LAX 100: $499. Stabila. 800-869-7460. www.stabila.com.


HIGH-PRESSURE FRAMING NAILERS

There's a formula that engineers strive for when designing every new generation of tools: small, powerful, light, and tough. Often, it is a maddeningly slow process, requiring lots of little steps and reinventions of individual parts until a tool can be truly and meaningfully "improved." Max's and Porter-Cable's high-pressure framing nailers embody this design ideal, but instead of taking the next little step in advancement, they have triple-jumped the status quo with incremental design changes and have revolutionized how we'll nail studs and sheathing to a building–and, how our arms will feel at the end of the day.

Max USA.

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Max pioneered high-pressure technology, revolutionizing the industry when it introduced the PowerLite system in Japan in 1994. Describing how great this system looks is like having a chicken-or-egg conversation–it's hard to know where to start. The first thing you notice is that the HM-90 coil nailer is 40 percent lighter and 20 percent smaller than most competitors' tools. But a closer look at the compressor reveals how much Max's engineers thought through this system. The 2.6-gallon tank runs at 400 psi. This means that while it only weighs 55 pounds–that's lighter than most 4-gallon side-stack compressors–it delivers the air equivalent of an 8.6-gallon unit, according to Max. And, because Max knows you won't throw away your old nailers just because they introduce new technology, there are four ports on the compressor: two for high-pressure tools and two for standard equipment. And that's not all. Max plans to roll out stick framing nailers and concrete pinners for bottom plate and track using this technology. The HM-90 coil framer holds 300 nails from 2 by .99 inches to 3-1/2 by .148 inches.
Cost: Compressor: $1,200; Tool: $650; Hose: $119. 800-223-4293. www.maxusacorp.com.

Porter-Cable

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Porter-Cable spikes the pressure gauge with its own version of high-pressure tools with a small, powerful stick framing nailer and side-stack compressor kit (model CLFCP350). The compressor, again, is the key. Porter-Cable's unit charges up to 175 psi while the nailer weighs about 25 percent less than other framing nailers. But don't let the nailer's size fool you; it's a powerhouse, able to sink framing nails in headers and LVL while absorbing recoil comfortably. The nailer has a tool-free magazine release for easy jam clearing, tool-free depth adjustment, and a rubber grip that reduces vibration. A selectable trigger allows you to switch between bump- and single-fire modes. It accommodates 2- to 3-1/2-inch paper-collated clipped-head framing nails. The kit includes the 175-psi high-pressure oil-lube side-stack compressor, nailer, 50-foot air hose, 3/8-inch fittings, and pipe joint tape. The tool also can be run off of the company's 20-gallon CPFC2TV3520W SiteBoss compressor.
Cost: $640. 800-487-8665. www.porter-cable.com.